[Applying Theory] Worldbuilding: Top Ten List for your Game/World/Campaign


Read the post and see the challenge at the bottom. This applies to all rule sets and game systems. THIS MEANS YOU.

It should be no surprise to recurring readers of The Action Point that I am a huge fan of tvtropes.org. (BEWARE: that site has amazing time-bending properties!!) I’ve written several different posts about how to use tropes from modern media in building elements of your game that your players will enjoy.

  • Trope-ify Your Setting: Use the website to identify tropes that fit your campaign feel
  • Core Tropes: Identify which tropes are most important to you as a GM to help when building adventures or NPCs.
  • Six Tropes, Under The Gods: Choose a limited number of tropes for individual areas of your campaign, so they are familiar and distinct as the PCs travel

All that work brings me to where we are today. As I looked through the 4E books, there is an interesting piece in each book: a bolded, bulleted list of simple-to-understand concepts regarding the setting and then a more detailed explanation of them. It seems as if the idea was of lesser importance in the first DMG, but somebody at WotC decided it needed more importance and you’ll find it in the beginning of each of the later “campaign” books.

  • Dungeon Master’s Guide 1, pg 150-151
  • Dark Sun Campaign Guide, pg 4-5
  • Eberron Campaign Guide, pg 4-5
  • Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide, pg 4-5

This simple list, smack in the beginning of the book, gives a birds-eye view of the campaign, how it differs (or embodies) a “typical” 4E D&D experience, and gives both players and GMs a great idea of what the baseline is to judge the rest of the material in the Campaign Guide off of.

If we combine the ideas from my tropes posts into the “Top Ten” Idea, what you get is a trope-based Top Ten list for your game to work from. This gives players at least ten basic, core concepts from your game/campaign/world that they can use as touchstones– and that you as  a GM can use as themes to reinforce the setting elements you desire to put front-and-center when you game. I’m a big fan of practical application instead of just theory, so below is the Top Ten list I developed (based off the tropes in the above three posts) for my Brittanis setting.

Ten Brittanis Facts

Riding on the razor’s edge of a descent into barbarism and madness, the region known as Brittanis struggles to find its destiny. Will it collapse into brutal conflict and end in spectacular annihilation, or will the world emerge at last into a new era of peace and prosperity? At this moment, a handful of heroes might hold the fate of the world in their hands. This is a world whose destiny is hidden in mysterious prophecies of ancient gods, tempered by powerful magic, and forged in bloody warfare.

What makes Brittanis unique? Here are ten key pieces of information about the world to bear in mind.

1. Dark Arthurian Roleplaying. The ancient tales of King Arthur and the sagas of his Knights of the Table Round are such potent imagery that they have become powerful images and icons in our culture today. Brittanis is a land where those themes and tales live and breathe. It’s not a retelling of the Arthurian cycle, though; Brittanis distills the themes, tone, and flavor of Arthurian legend and combines it with many of the things that make standard fantasy great. The themes of honor, knighthood, power, temptation, corruption and betrayal all come center stage in Brittanis. Adventures in this realm take the cinematic heroics of traditional D&D and stirs in a strong dose of mystery and scheming as befitting the machinations of modern retellings of the Arthurian sagas. In this campaign, stories don’t always end well, and there isn’t always a right answer to every problem. When the Tiberian Empire left, old allies turned into bitter enemies and fell upon one another in greed and power-hungry ambition, leaving terrible scars behind on commoner and noble alike. Crime and corruption lurk in the largest cities. While the heroes might (and should) strive for good, morality isn’t always black and white; sometimes difficult decisions must be made to the detriment of those who make them. The characters’ allies might become their enemies in the blink of an eye, and well-known agents of evil might provide assistance when it is least expected. Hidden schemers shape the course of history.

2. Civilization is Dying. The Tiberian Empire which conquered and ruled Brittanis for centuries is gone, consumed by demonic fury and unholy armies almost 100 years ago. When the Empire fell, they took the light of law and civilization with them. Though Brittanis was spared the ravages of war that crushed the Empire, the things the Empire brought to Brittanis quickly crumbled. The rule of law has been replaced by the rule of the powerful, and where once legions patrolled and magistrates travelled to administer Imperial justice, now only local kings, warlords, and nobles desperately holding on to old titles reign. In the time since the Fall of Tiberium, trade has slowed to a trickle as roads become overgrown and both monsters and bandits make travel more dangerous than ever. The light of civilization that was Tiberium has gone out, and across Brittanis the shadows deepen, leaving only scattered points of light to stand against the darkness.

3. Magic is Real, Ancient… and Dangerous. Our current age is one where the awesome magical might of the ancients exists as a mere shadow of itself. Mortals can wield impressive power; arcane spells and prayers to the gods are very real as well as those who call on ancient spirits of the untamed world. Just as real, however, is the dark side of magic: those who have traded part or all of their souls for power by making pacts with creatures beyond our reality or powers of utter darkness. Magic is not understood by the average peasant or city-dweller; they know it exists but rightly fear a power that can, literally, do almost anything. A Circle of Magi oversees those who wield arcane power within the borders of the human realms; any who wish to practice magic must submit to their authority or risk annihilation as a renegade mage.

4. A World In Need of Heroes. From the deep, primal forests of Seridane to the colossal ruins of the Shattered Isles, from the towering keeps of Ironhall to the blasted hills and valleys of the Wastes, Brittanis is a world of action and adventure. Adventures can and should draw heroes from one exotic location to another across nations, and encountering the various cultures that inhabit the land. The quest for the Blade of the Sun King might take the heroes from a hidden desert shrine to a ruined castle in the Shadow Marches and finally to a dungeon below the Library of Calderon.

5. Prophecy is Real; Prophecy is Everywhere. The goddess Rhaine is the divine sponsor of divination and prophecy, and Brittanic legend and myth are rife with tales of her influence upon heroes and villains alike. Her words whisper throughout the fabric of Brittanis, carved on the stones and written on parchments ancient and crumbling. Some scholars and arcanists have whispered that all of Rhaine’s prophecies are part of a single, unified whole that foretells the future of Brittanis, but no one can agree on whether the prophecy fortells great deeds…or catastrophic doom.

6. A World of Intrigue. Full-scale war looms on the horizon like a black thundercloud, coming ever closer and borne of the winds of fate and greed. Ancient threats linger, however, and the world desperately needs heroes to take up the cause. Kings, warlords and tribes compete on many levels-economic might, political influence, territory, magical power–each looking to maintain or improve its current status by any means short of all out war. Espionage and sabotage services create big business in certain circles. The Great Houses as well as their nobles and banner houses, temples both pure and corrupt, crime lords, spies, the Circle of Magi, royal orders of knights and wizards, secret societies, sinister masterminds, dragons, and a multitude of organizations and factions jockey for position in the shadow of the oncoming war. Brittanis teems with conflict and intrigue and stands on the brink of disaster should the wrong faction tip the balance of power in the region.

7. The Game of Thrones. Since before the time of the Tiberian Empire, mighty noble dynasties have machinated, married, warred, schemed and manipulated each other. They wield tremendous power in Brittanis. Some are powerful economically, others carry political influence or military might over their peers, and some even base their status in powers arcane, but each House, minor or major, works to better itself. Some choose to work for the betterment of the bannermen and fiefs they hold sway over and others choose to bleed their common folk dry for their own benefit, but all hold power over those in their lands. As years pass, some Houses rise while others fall or are obliterated completely. Each has their allies and enemies, and each strives to outwit and outfight the others to be the last standing in the end.

8. Feudalism Rules Brittanis—And Your Character Is Part Of The System. Oaths of fealty are the fabric that binds society together in these darkening times. Princes and Kings have dominion over the Dukes of their lands, who in turn govern the lands granted to them by their ruler. Each kingdom, duchy, province or tribal land is divided into the control of various lords or chiefs, and these lesser rulers pass their power on to the knights and warriors under their command. Commoners owe allegiance to a knight and support his efforts and he repays their service by protecting and managing their lands as well. Merchants typically owe fealty to a Noble House which has invested money in the merchant’s business, and even criminals typically are overseen by a guild or gang who rules the criminal element. Mercenaries hire on to a noble house to fight in proxy war. Your character works for someone at least indirectly and your actions will reflect upon them—and their enemies will become your enemies. Choose your faction well, for it will have great impact on your character’s story.

9. Monsters Have Returned. When the Empire ruled Brittanis, great roads were built crisscrossing the region, connecting settlements and allowing the legions to move with surprising speed and efficiency. In the 600 years of Tiberian rule, the legions successfully patrolled, sought out, and eliminated many of the threats that would emerge from the wilderness to attack settlers and villagers. Without the legions to keep them in check, however, now they prey on travelers with regularity. Villages on the ever-shrinking frontier disappear with terrible regularity, swept clean by horrible, demon-tainted monsters or devoured by the hungry dead. Though still more common the farther away from “civilized lands” one gets, more and more reports of giants, wyverns and worse creep into tavern tales as commoner and noble alike huddle inside the safety of thick, sturdy walls. Creatures once thought extinct are now the stuff of traveler’s tales and even the mighty dragons—hunted by the legions and declared extinct throughout the entire Empire—are said to have been sighted on mighty wings and lonely mountaintops.

10. Old Gods and the Church of Light. Six hundred years ago—before the Tiberian Empire conquered Brittanis—an ancient faith held sway over Brittanis. Shamans, druids, bards and priests of this faith traveled the land as mediators between folk in conflict, keepers of lore, healers and wielders of magic both arcane and divine in the name of the Three Sisters. When the Empire came over the Wyrmsteeth Mountains bent on bloody conquest, one of their first priorities was the destruction of what is now called the Old Faith. The legions murdered the clergy of the Three Sisters by the hundreds until they were forced to abandon the cities and hide in wilderness temples and well-concealed groves. The Tiberians brought with them their own religion called The Church of Light—a convocation of several gods of their homeland banded together in a bureaucratic clergy—and the faith has flourished over the six centuries of Tiberian occupation. Now that the Empire is gone, however, the Church of Light is no longer the official state religion—and the Old Faith is growing stronger. In some settlements the two faiths get along well for the betterment of commoner and noble alike, but in others the two faiths engage in a battle of will for the souls of their followers. Many of the clergy who remember the days before Tiberium fell still hold resentment towards the other side, recalling days of segregation and, in some places, persecution. But those who have come into their faiths since the Empire fell know the truth—no matter the mistakes of their ancestors or centuries of enmity between them, both faiths support the people of Brittanis, beset on all sides by enemies, monsters and the ever-encroaching darkness.

So if you had to distill the feel/tone/theme of your game into ten bulleted items, what would they be? How would you prioritize the list? How would you give it to your players?

I hereby drop a blogging gauntlet at your feet: post your Campaign Top Ten, comment here, and I’ll put a link up for all to see. This applies to ANYBODY: 4E, OSR, 3.X, Pathfinder, FATE… anybody can benefit from this, so I lay down a challenge across all platforms and rulesystems– come up with a Top Ten and share it!!! 

This entry was posted in Applying Theory, Brittanis, GM Advice, Tropes, Worldbuilding and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to [Applying Theory] Worldbuilding: Top Ten List for your Game/World/Campaign

  1. Pingback: Fantastic Location: TV Tropes | Keith J Davies — In My Campaign - Keith's thoughts on RPG design and play.

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